Are losers happier?

Are losers happier?

Imagine you’re competing in the Olympics.

But you didn’t win Gold.

You missed. By a hair.

Instead, you got the Silver medal.

No small feat. Yet still disappointing.

But you know who’s happier than you?

The Bronze medalist.

So close, yet so far away


I can hear you yelling at the top of your longs. And confidently proclaiming that you’d be much happier as the Silver medalist.

But my friend, I come with data.

A 1992 study titled When Less is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction Among Olympic Medalists (Medvec, Madey, Gilovich) shows that the Bronze medal winners are actually happier than the Silver medalists.

What gives?

Well, the Silver medalists have FOMO. They are focused on how close they were to the Big Kahuna. And ultimatley disappointed.

On the other hand, the Bronze medalists are grateful. Their baseline is not getting to the podium at all.

So they return to the Olympic Village with a deep sense of satisfaction.

The great game (of business)

I constantly speak with driven professionals about their business ambitions.

And one question that stops them dead in their tracks is:

Am I playing the right game?

Too often, they enter a mimetic pursuit of status symbolspromotions, wealth, houses, follower counts – only to painfully realize that they’re accompanied by tremendous dis-satisfaction.

(And they learn that the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.)

But if you think of business and entrepreneurship as a game (of sorts) – how can you ensure that we’re playing the right game?

What type of striver are you?

Good news, friends.

There’s a 2×2 Matrix that can help you uncover your underlying motivation.

It comes from a fascinating and deeply philosophical book called Games: Agency as Art by C. Thi Nguyen. It’s a quirky text that examines all types of games (ranging from Catan to Final Fantasy to Asshole) to better understand human motivation.

Nguyen presents the following matrix (the labels are mine):

If we look at the axes, one category requires further clarification: striving. In the duality of process vs. outcome, striving is the process. It’s taking joy in the actual activity (versus the end result).

Now let’s look at each category:

Pure (Intrinsic Achievement)

This player wants to win, purely for the win. And purely for themselves. They don’t need to be celebrated or honored.

Gold (Extrinsic Achievement)

This player wants the direct benefits of winning. It’s the olympian who wants the Gold medal and the professional poker player who wants the cash.

Vibes (Intrinsic Striving)

Play for the sake of engagement and the joy of the built-in struggle. Agnostic to winning or losing.

GAINZ (Extrinsic Striving)

This category surprised me the most. It removes the primary outcome (winning the game) and substitutes it with the benefits of playing the game. For example, playing soccer to get fit or running a marathon to improve your mental health. Since you don’t run a marathon to “win the race,” you’re agnostic to the result.

This matrix really moved me because it clarified how I approach entrepreneurship. I’m not particularly motivated by money, but I need some of it.

I really follow things that light me up (and ignore things that feel burdensome).

I’m definitely NOT trying to “win entrepreneurship.”

I definitely enjoy the validation that comes from being an Internet Personality.

A generous interpretation of the matrix would put me in Vibes (i.e. intrinsic striving). But I do want some benefit, so I’m probably in Gainz.

How about you?

Should we work together?

When it comes to achievement and validation, are you in the WRONG QUADRANT? Don’t worry, I was misaligned for a long time and have designed a group coaching program for high-earners looking to navigate a career transition.

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